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Remembering Wisconsin’s Mike Ellis

July 22, 2018

Late last week former Wisconsin State Senator Mike Ellis died.   Many will recall him for being a strong personality and tough politician for the issues and causes he aligned himself with over the many years he served.  He certainly created controversy–even relished in stirring the pots.  But he also had a deeply human touch that could cross the political divides.

That latter point truly made an impression on me as when I noted in February 2011 that in spite of everything that seems to be happening for the bad, there are still some decent folks around doing good.

During that chaotic time the Senate Democrats decided to leave the state in order to prevent a vote on the budget repair bill.  It was then that Ellis made a decision to be a good human being versus a partisan politician.   I noted those feelings as it reaffirms my views about the better angels around us.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported the events that still make me glad for moments when there can be comity between state senators of differing parties.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Senate’s Democrats agreed to flee to Illinois, leaving the Senate one member shy of the 20 senators required to vote on budget-related bills.

It was the third pivotal decision – MTI’s call for protest and the Democrats’ continuation of testimony were the others – that blocked rapid passage of the budget-repair bill and accelerated an already historic set of events.

But there was a problem: Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville didn’t participate in the vote to leave Wisconsin. He was helping the family of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Bill Bablitch notify the media of Bablitch’s death.

When he heard the plans, Cullen called Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, to ask if he could enter the Capitol without being detained.

“He said fine, come in. There’s no problem,” Cullen told the State Journal.

Ellis, who runs the Senate, cautioned Cullen to leave by 11 a.m., when the Senate was scheduled to consider the bill and he would be forced to institute a “call of the house” to try to compel the 14 senators back to the chamber.

Cullen said he later got a call from Ellis as he drove south toward Illinois: “Did you get out of here?”

When assured that Cullen was out of Madison, he said Ellis responded, “Good. I just wanted to double check.”

In January 2006 I wrote a blog post urging Ellis to run for governor.    While I am a liberal Democrat, and Ellis was a conservative Republican I much respected and admired his desire to fix a very much broken campaign finance system in the state.   The process of governing is very important to me, and I have long championed those who work to make it stronger and more durable.

Mike Ellis can be cranky and difficult. He has a bad hairpiece and is mostly not on the correct side of social policy. I know all that. I accept all that. But the supreme issue of campaign finance reform now confronts the foundations of state government, and needs to be solved.   ….this issue affects every other issue, and by not correctly addressing it everything else suffers.

Ellis understands the problem, and has been adamant about the need to address it, and fix it. It is time for those who care about the process to take a stand. Today I encourage Ellis to seek the office of Governor in Wisconsin.

While Mike Ellis has not made the decision yet to run for Governor (and may not run) I at least wanted to be on record as a real Democrat who embraces reform. My party has not been pro-active in Wisconsin and Governor Jim Doyle has shown no leadership ability on this matter. The issue is far too important to pretend that it doesn’t exist, or that the “other party” is more to blame for the problem. Enough already. One man has stood up and led on the issue. He deserves a chance to solve the problem once and for all. He will have statewide support from newspaper editorial boards and independents who seem to care more about this issue than partisans.

Over the many years I have thought of Ellis as our state’s version of Henry Clay.  Skilled, bright, and capable.  But never elected to the top position.  May we always have elected officials like Ellis–in both parties–who speak clearly and care deeply about this state.

One Comment
  1. No, YOU'RE out of order! Al PacinoSolly permalink
    July 23, 2018 4:29 PM

    I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Ellis, Cowles and Olson had joined Dale Schultz and gone into see Wanker in February ’11 and said “you are not going to drop the bomb and you are not going to divide and conquer.” (maybe we’d be as economically successful as Minnesota). “This is Wisconsin and our party is the party of Bob La Follette and Robert and Warren Knowles and Tiny Krueger.” Instead, we could not count a single cojone among the three of them. Can you imagine the Repugnants passing Act 10 15-4 with the Dems missing? It wouldn’t have been a majority of the Senate.
    Ellis had a Napoleanic complex commensurate with his stature. He’s not one of the people I’d romanticize as particularly courageous or effective. However, he swung, and broke a mean gavel when he was ramming through anti-choice legislation. But, may he and the squirrel that resided on his head R.I.P.

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